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Saturday, May 23, 2020

Ancient Words for Priests


Many images of shaved priests have been found. This shaved priest is sacrificing a ram. 


Alice C. Linsley


Moses had a half-brother named Korah, and like Aaron, Korah was a priest. The term Korah refers to a shaved priest. (Biblical Archaeology Review, July/August 2007, p.37.) The korahs shaved their bodies before their time of service at the temple or shrine. This was part of their ritual purification.

Herodotus observed that ritual purity was a prominent feature of the Nilotic priest's life (II:37):
"They are religious excessively beyond all other men, and with regard to this they have customs as follows: they drink from cups of bronze and rinse them out every day, and not some only do this but all: they wear garments of linen always newly washed, and this they make a special point of practice: they circumcise themselves for the sake of cleanliness, preferring to be clean rather than comely. The priests shave themselves all over their body every other day, so that no lice or any other foul thing may come to be upon them when they minister to the gods; and the priests wear garments of linen only and sandals of papyrus, and any other garment they may not take nor other sandals; these wash themselves in cold water twice in the day and twice again in the night; and other religious services they perform (one may almost say) of infinite number."

Korah was born to Amram and his cousin wife Ishara. Ishara named their son "Korah" after her father, Korah the Elder. 1 Chronicles 23:18 says that Shelomith was Ishara's first son. As "Korah" is a title, it is possible that Moses' half-brother was named Shelomith.

Ishara is a Hittite word meaning "promise" or "binding oath." The Hittites are related to Heth of Kiriath Arba (Hebron) where Sarah lived. Hebron was part of ancient Edom in Abraham's time.

In 1 Chronicles 23:18, Ishara/Ishar is named as a chief. Another woman named as a chief is Anah in Genesis 36. Genesis 36 lists the rulers of Edom that descend from Seir the Horite Hebrew. Abraham's territory was in ancient Edom and Aaron was buried there




Though the Horite Hebrew were widely dispersed among other peoples, they maintained their unique culture and religious heritage as a ruler-priest caste. Within that caste there were orders of priests or temple guilds whose functions varied according to their clan. That explains why there are many different names for priests, including terah, korah, harwa, sem, and hekau.

The Terah named as Abraham's father (Gen. 11) was a powerful chief over a clan. He would have played a role in decisions about widows. Among the Nilotic Luo, Ja'Ter refers to the priest who performs the widow cleansing rituals. Among the Dinka, the word for priest is tier. 

This title was found among the rulers of the Annu who inhabited the Upper Nile. The title "Tera-netjer" means priest of God/King. In Japan, the word "tera" refers to a temple priest.



Another term for priest is Korah. In the language of the Nilotic Luo, Ja'Kor refers a priest-seer who offers incantations and prayers for the future. According to rabbinic sources, Korah possessed the power to foresee the future. These priests were in the service of rulers and high kings. Joseph may have been regarded as a korah when he foretold the future calamity that was coming upon Egypt.




Another term for priest is harwa. Sudra priests traveled as far as Nepal where they are called "harwa."

A famous Nilotic priest called Harwa served as the high steward of God's wife early in the seventh century BC. The so-called "God's wife" was a princess who was to oversee affairs of the temple. Royal daughters were dedicated to the temple when they were denied marriage or they refused to marry. The two highest ranks a woman could hold in ancient Egypt were the positions of the God’s Wife (Hemet Netjer) and the Divine Adoratrice (Duat Netjer). These women are sometimes referred to as "priestesses" though they served no priestly functions.

Sargon (reigned c. 2334–2284 BC) appointed his daughter Heduanna as the En of the shrine at Ur. The Akkadian term En means lord, master, royal official. The Creator’s son was called En-ki, meaning “Lord of the Earth.” En-Heduanna served the Creator God Anu, at the House (pr) of Anu (Iannu). As with Roman Catholic nuns, she would have been considered “married” to the deity she served. En-Heduanna is credited with a large body of cuneiform poetry.

Some priests were responsible for funerals and the maintenance of burial sites. The sem priests presided over mortuary rituals and conducted funeral services. These were the embalmers who recited prayers to God Father and God Son (Ra and Horus) while wrapping the mummies. Many of the prayers of the sem priests are found in ancient writings such as the Pyramid Tests (2400 BC) and the Coffin Texts (2000 BC). These texts speak of the hope of bodily resurrection. A Horite song found at the royal complex at Ugarit, speaks of Horus descending to the place of the dead "to announce good tidings." Horus is described as rising on the third day (The Ancient Egyptian Pyramid Texts, Utterance 667).

Other significant (Messianic) utterances include:
"Horus has shattered (tbb, crushed) the mouth of the serpent with the sole of his foot (tbw)." Pyramid Texts, Utterance 388
"I am Horus, the great Falcon upon the ramparts of the house of him of the hidden name. My flight has reached the horizon. I have passed by the gods of Nut. I have gone further than the gods of old. Even the most ancient bird could not equal my very first flight. I have removed my place beyond the powers of Set, the foe of my father Osiris. No other god could do what I have done. I have brought the ways of eternity to the twilight of the morning. I am unique in my flight. My wrath will be turned against the enemy of my father Osiris and I will put him beneath my feet in my name of 'Red Cloak'." Coffin Texts, Utterance 148 

The ka priests were paid by a family to perform the daily offerings at the tomb of their deceased loved ones.

Some priest served as royal lectors. The lector-priest was called hekau. These priests read ancient texts and were known as the keepers of the received tradition (hakem).

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